Before now, Montreal-based indie studio Tribute Games has been pretty tight-lipped about its new project Flinthook. Beyond a mosaic-based teaser the team hosted on Twitch earlier this month where they announced the game's title and revealed its look for the first time, the folks behind Mercenary Kings have been keeping mostly quiet on their next big title.
Last week at GDC, we met up with Tribute Games' co-founder Jean-François Major to get our hands on Flinthook and find out what type of game it is, and now we have the answer: It's an action-platformer "rogue-lite" inspired by games like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy, but with a major movement-based twist. In Flinthook, players are equipped with a "chain hook," a grappling device that allows the eponymous Captain Flinthook to swing around the level. Flinthook is also equipped with a plasma gun and slow-mo abilities, with the expectation being that you'll use these in combat in conjunction with the hookshot, which itself has combat implications — for instance, in the demo we played, there were enemies whose shields needed to be ripped off with the chain hook before they could be attacked.
All this could be overwhelming, except it's not. Tribute has clearly put a lot of thought into nailing down the control scheme, with the game's designer and artist Dominique "Dom2D" Ferland even polling his Twitter followers as far back as last November on how they'd want to control a theoretical "Spiderman With A Gun" game.
Imagine a game in which Spiderman has a gun. What buttons/keys/sticks would you assign to each of Spidey's actions? pic.twitter.com/fZEkOoopTE— Dom2D // No GDC! (@dom2d) November 9, 2015
Building out controls for a game like this is actually a pretty a tricky mental exercise. One might assume that you'd want to put aiming the right analog stick, but the problem with that is that it would force key actions like jumping, shooting and firing the grappling hook to be relegated to the triggers, as your thumbs would be permanently stuck to both sticks.
"It was really tricky to get the hookshot to work really well and feel super tight. That was our biggest challenge, I think," Major said.
In Flinthook's current iteration, which we played on a DualShock 4, all movement and aiming is done with the left analog stick, with the chainhook assigned to R2 and jumping and shooting relegated to X and Square. L1 also allows players to lock their feet in place, while items are used with Triangle and Circle is used to interact with treasure chests and other objects.
All this is in service of allowing players to keep their right thumbs on the face buttons, and the resulting control scheme is enormously intuitive — within seconds of picking up Flinthook, the controls felt responsive and comfortable, like we'd been playing the game for years. Within seconds, we were able to combine the slow-motion and grappling hook to change trajectory mid-air and get out of the way of enemy bullets, and it's easy to imagine how the game could get trickier over time.
Still, Major says their objective isn't to make another ultra-challenging roguelite platformer. "It's not super punishing," he pointed out, and it sounds like they're happy with it that way. "We'll also have a challenging mode where it's really more hardcore, so if you die, you start from the beginning."
While the demo they were showing off at GDC wasn't procedurally generated, Major insisted that the final game will be — and, according to Major, version of Flinthook they're developing in the office is already there. "[The level generation] works. Everything works already — it's really just a matter of us wanting this demo to be really tight, and we still have to figure out a couple of things with balancing and progression. We always get some surprises, where it's a tad harder than what you'd expect. But it's all in there — this is really just a vertical slice of what's to come. We're pretty stoked about it."
According to Major, both the level layout and the contents of the rooms are randomized. "You might go into the same battle room, but it'll be a totally separate set of enemies and patterns," said Major.
While Tribute has nothing to announce in terms of a console release, it's something the company is actively considering. The current build of the game is running on a PC, so Major says it will likely end up on Steam at some point.
For more on Flinthook, check out the game's official website at flinthook.com.